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Interview with British Singer-Songwriter Ellie Goulding

Aired March 15, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET



MONITA RAJPAL, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): Her serial sound has endeared her to millions around the world. First flooding into households around Britain with this Elton John cover, as part of a commercial for the department store, John Lewis.

But it was the 2010 pop single, "Starry Eyed", that would snag a number four ranking on the U.K. charts. Helping her debut album, "Lights", get the coveted number one spot. Her sudden popularity saw her win the influential BBC Sound of 2010 poll, followed by the Critic's Choice Award at the Brits, that same year. Making her the second artist, after superstar Adele, to achieve such feats.

ELLIE GOULDING, ENGLISH SINGER-SONGWRITER: I've never experienced anything like this in my life.

RAJPAL (voiceover): The rising British star also cracked audiences across the Atlantic with her electronic pop sound. Today, her single, "Lights", has sold some three million copies in the U.S. alone and reached number five on the Billboard 100.

And, while Grammy fame has so far eluded her, her latest album, "Halcyon", also entered the U.S. charts in the top 10.

This week, we meet Ellie Goulding in Singapore, as she brings her digital groove east and find out why she has to lock herself away to write her latest album.


RAJPAL: Ellie Goulding, welcome to "Talk Asia".

GOULDING: Thank you.

RAJPAL: Thank you so much for being here with us in Singapore. Your first time performing live in Singapore.


RAJPAL: Do you ever give yourself a chance to think back as to how your music and where your music has brought you?

GOULDING: Definitely, this is a place, which has kind of brought it home for me the most, you know. I've spent a lot of time in America in the last couple of years. And to suddenly be here, it really has made everything a bit more real, you know. Like when I got to the airport, there were fans there and they were really sweet and really cute and I didn't expect that. In fact, I bet with my tour manager that there wouldn't be anybody waiting.

RAJPAL: And you were saying, you've been touring a lot in the United States as well - it's a place where a lot of artists from around the world want to break. That's a market that's very difficult to break. So what was that like for you, knowing that you were able to break that barrier?

GOULDING: Well, I spent a lot of time in America just being kind of on the cusp and not really getting to that high a level of having a hit song or having a hit album. I think we kind of got to the point where all of us, myself and my management team and stuff, thought that it got to that point where we were just going to give up on America.

Which, to me, seems crazy now, because as soon as I got back home to record "Halcyon" and it took off with one of my songs, "Lights". And then I realized that I could do it. And so they flew me back over and I was performing everywhere and I had a good - I was in a good place, but, like, life took me into an even greater place in America.


GOULDING (singing): You show the lights that stop me turn to stone./ You shine it when I'm alone./And so I tell myself that I'll be strong,/And dreaming when they're gone.


RAJPAL: Let's talk about "Lights". I think there was, at one point, especially during the Summer Olympics in London, where I heard it everywhere. All the time.


RAJPAL: Were you prepared for the kind of feedback and reaction that "Lights" gave you?

GOULDING: No. I wrote "Lights" a long, long time ago. And I expected it to be on the album, because it was - I wrote it with "Biff" Stannard. And he wrote every single Spice Girls song and every single pop song of the 90s, basically. So I thought, you know, I was really lucky to work with him, but I didn't think it would be a big song for some reason. I just - I don't know. I just didn't think it had that kind of magic, but obviously, it did.


GOULDING: Because it sold 3.5 million copies, I think.

RAJPAL: And everyone heard it.

GOULDING: People in America - actually in the world, know my name more than they know me or my face or what I look like.

RAJPAL: That's pretty cool, thought.

GOULDING: Yes, it's handy.


GOULDING: It's handy, yes. But you know, I've always liked that. I like the idea of me not just like some other songs, remixes, coming on in clubs or shops or wherever, and people are like, "Oh, this is really cool". But never know, again, that it's me. That's quite a cool thing.

RAJPAL: What was the inspiration behind "Lights"?

GOULDING: Partly my fear of the dark, which I still have and I still sleep with one light on, at least. And, I think, because I grew up sharing a bedroom with my two sisters, that, as soon as I wasn't with them, I missed it, and I wasn't used to it. And so I had to keep the light on.

RAJPAL: Yes. 2011 and 2012 were pretty huge years for you. I mean, aside from the accolades and the awards and the recognition that you received, you also became a wedding singer.

GOULDING: Yes, I was asked by Kate and William to perform at their wedding - at the after-party.


GOULDING: Because they're just really big fans and they had seen me perform at a festival, and I think that was what made them choose me.

RAJPAL: Did I hear that you didn't take the call, because you were on your way to the gym or something? Is that -

GOULDING: The first call I didn't answer, because it was anonymous and I always get scared of answering anonymous calls. And the second time, I just had this - it was another anonymous call. I just had this feeling that it was someone important. And I was on my way to the gym, in London, with my boyfriend at the time. And I looked at him and I was like, "I think this is a really important phone call. I've just got a hunch". And it was - it was one of Prince William's advisors.

RAJPAL: And at the moment, when you see, at that time, the most famous couple in the world walking in - what was going through your mind?

GOULDING: I think the only way that I was able to deal with it is because, firstly, I've met them already and I'd chatted to William - Prince William, Prince Harry - quite a bit. So I think that was the only way that kind of - and that took the edge off. But also, I guess, when you've met famous people and people that you see on the TV a lot and people you - you finally start realizing that famous people do really exist and they're human people and it's not that scary or intimidating.

RAJPAL: I understand you sang, "Your Song". I'd like to talk a little bit about "Your Song".


GOULDING (singing): I hope you don't mind,/ I hope you don't mind,/That I put down in words/How wonderful life is now you're in the world.


RAJPAL: It got such wide appeal, not to mention that it was also in a commercial in the U.K. as well. It was produced by Ben Mumford.


RAJPAL: How did that change for you? How did your sound change, working with him?

GOULDING: I think he just wanted to bring back that - that kind of delicate nature of my voice when I first started out doing music. And he did - he genuinely directed me while I was singing it, and stuff. So, had he not been there, I think it would have been very different. So he had a huge part in it.


RAJPAL: It was an album that was dominated by this loneliness.

GOULDING: I think I've definitely experienced different kinds of loneliness since making my first album.






RAJPAL: I want to talk about "Halcyon". I've heard you describe the album as having a very ambitious sound. But yet, I've read that you've said that it was also a very - it was an album that - it was dominated by this loneliness. Tell me a little bit about that.

GOULDING: I think I've definitely experienced different kinds of loneliness since making my first album. But I think it's more a loneliness in feeling something or - I think the reason why I like writing songs so much is so that I can - it's so that I can prove to myself that I'm not actually alone. And then I realize that a lot of people feel the same way. And I think, when you become disconnected with someone or something ends - you do feel - suddenly feel a very intense sort of loneliness. And yes, that's what helped me write the record.

RAJPAL: Why did you decide to call it "Halcyon"? I know that one of the songs on the album is "Halcyon". What was it - what did it represent for you?

GOULDING: I wrote a lot of the lyrics - the majority of the lyrics - by the ocean in Ireland. And I guess, tied with me wanting to make songs that are hopeful and kind of have a light in them. So that it's not all like doom and gloom, because I do write about breaking up with people and broken hearts and stuff. So, I think I just wanted there to be some sort of - I just wanted to summarize it in a more positive way, I think, with "Halcyon".

RAJPAL: About the video for "Anything Can Happen" - I mean, it's a beautiful song, but it also - the video, it has sort of a tragic twist to it, as well. What was the inspiration behind that?

GOULDING: I guess, because it could have been a really, like - it could have been a really feel-good, positive, like, anthemic video where everyone's really happy. I guess because the song is quite like that. It's quite uplifting. But I wanted to sort of show the dark side of fate as well.


GOULDING (singing): And now I know the truth/That anything could happen/Anything could happen/Anything could happen/Anything could happen/Anything could happen/Anything could happen -


GOULDING: It's a cliche thing that I think people sing about a lot, but I think I've made it less obvious in the lyrics of "Anything Could Happen", so I guess I wanted to show that in the video.

RAJPAL: Do you find that, the more that you've been exposed to this industry - the entertainment world as well - and the more famous you become, that it becomes even lonelier at the top. That you have to be very careful with who you associate yourself with and who your friends are?

GOULDING: Yes, I think that as time goes on, I think you realize more who your friends are. In the beginning, there's people - those people around. But, to me, it's one of the most important things that an artist can have good people around them, and not people who are just, you know, there for any kind of glory or there for any kind of - for themselves. I think you start realizing when people are genuinely there for you because they want to be there for you.

RAJPAL: When did you realize you wanted to write songs. But not only, just you wanted to do it, but that you had something there - that you had a sound as well, that you could make a living out of?

GOULDING: I never thought that I could make a living out of my voice, to be completely honest. I thought that I could probably keep playing pubs. And it was exciting for me to get even just a pub gig in my town or country, when I went to University. That was really exciting. So you can imagine, like, you know, how I feel every day. I feel very lucky all the time. And - I seem to have found my voice at university, and that's when people - I met all kinds of people. And, when a lot of people started paying interest, I kind of - I thought maybe I was on to something.

RAJPAL: One thing I admire about songwriters - poets as well - you can deal with your emotions in a beautifully lyrical way. You can put it all down there and let it out. Not everyone has that kind of skill and quality. Do you find that writing songs helps you emotionally?

GOULDING: Yes. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't write songs. I still don't know if I can write songs. I don't think anyone ever knows if they can write songs. You know, I think -

RAJPAL: I think you can.


GOULDING: Thank you.

RAJPAL: You're pretty good at it.

GOULDING: I think that's always kind of driven me. Like, the unknown. Like, not knowing if I'm writing a good song or not.

RAJPAL: Yes. In terms of also the fact that, what you write about is quite personal, do you - and then it's out there for everyone to hear, to listen to, and also potentially judge. How do you deal with that?

GOULDING: Again, in the beginning, I found it very hard to deal with people judging my music. I made it because I wanted to, and I got to where I was just purely from the enjoyment of singing and writing songs. So I found it hard, and I felt like I didn't deserve it. But now, I use it, again, for my advantage. Like, I take criticism really like, you know, in a productive way.

RAJPAL: How therapeutic is the process of making a song and writing a song, for you?

GOULDING: It's therapeutic when I listen to what I've done, I suppose. Like the first sort of version - it's amazing to suddenly hear something out of nothing. It's amazing to suddenly hear a song that's been born. And when you've been with an album so long, like I was on my first one, it was so awesome to suddenly hear new stuff. And I still find it fascinating that me and someone else can come up with "Anything Could Happen" out of nothing. You know, I still - you know, regardless of whether people like the song or not. Or whether it's a hit song, I just still think it's really cool.


RAJPAL: How do you deal with the enormous responsibility and the pressure of fame?

GOULDING: I still don't see what's up with fame, though.




GOULDING (singing): I know you care, I know it has always been there/But there is trouble ahead, I can feel it/You are just saving yourself when you hide it.


RAJPAL: Tell me a little bit about "I Know You Care". And what's that song meant for you?

GOULDING: "I Know You Care" is about my dad. And I haven't seen him for a long, long time. And my parents divorced when I was really young. And I guess I just wanted a - it was my way of saying that I wasn't bitter or angry anymore. I was just sad and just felt like something was missing.

And I was really pleased that the song was taken out of my context of it and put into another one in the film, "Now Is Good", which is about a girl with terminal cancer. And she's got, like, not much time left to do the things she's always wanted to do. And she sort of goes through them in the film. And it's a beautiful film. But I think, yes, I think it's almost, like, too sad. It's quite hard to watch, you know.

I was glad they asked to use that song, because I wanted it to be slightly more universal. And it helped me as well, because I stopped thinking about it, you know, connecting it with one person.

RAJPAL: How has your family shaped your - the way you write your songs?

GOULDING: I think that growing up with my siblings and my mum definitely - it's definitely, inspired my writing in that we are quite a tough love kind of family. So I think that any kind of emotion that I had or felt - being in that situation without my dad, and stuff - I would end up putting it into a song. I wouldn't express it to my siblings or my mum. It wasn't like that, you know. It was like we wouldn't talk to each other very much.

RAJPAL: Did your mom ever - has she ever spoken to you since about your songs and think, "You didn't talk to me about this stuff before" and wonder why?

GOULDING: It's kind of overwhelming for them that I have all this stuff to write about, I think. Because, I think it would be for any family to suddenly have, like, someone in the family with two records full of stuff - full of lyrics and memories and talking about my childhood and my dad. I think anyone would find that quite strange.

RAJPAL: If you knew your dad was watching, what would you tell him?

GOULDING: Wow. I don't know, really. I suppose the thing with him is there's just always a ginormous question mark. Because I still don't - I don't know what happened. But, I mean, I don't even know if he watches my interviews or listens to my music. Genuinely, it's just everything is a question - everything is a question, wondering whether he's even heard my music or not. So it's a very strange situation with him.

RAJPAL: That certainly has an impact. It would have an impact on anyone. But for someone who's out in the public eye - I guess you deal with it through your music.

GOULDING: Yes. I've never sort of felt any kind of, like, bitterness towards the way my childhood or the fact that my dad wasn't around, because it's given me a lot of strength and being able to sort of - knowing that I've almost seen, like, two sides of the coin, now, I feel like I can sort of deal with anything. And also, it just gave me a really good sense of humor and a way of looking at things in life.

RAJPAL: That's very English of you. Keep calm and carry on.

GOULDING: Exactly, exactly. Yes. I am very British. Yes.

RAJPAL: I guess, how do you - you're so young, how do you deal with the enormous responsibility and the pressure of fame?

GOULDING: I still don't see myself as famous. That's why I'm always like, "Oh, no one's going to show up to the show. My show's not going to sell out." or "No one's going to be there. There's not going to be any cameras there". And I just always think that.

RAJPAL: Is that your biggest fear?

GOULDING: I don't know. My life is just strange. But it's really cool, but it's - I always feel like I'm in a comedy show all the time. So much weird stuff happens and I meet people and people come up to me and, like, yes. Just things happen to me all the time where I just think, "What on earth is my life?"

RAJPAL: What's the strangest thing that's happened to you so far?

GOULDING: Just, I suppose, being asked to sing at the royal wedding was quite a big shock to me. And just knowing I have the fans I do and, like Simon Cowell came up to me the other day, and said that I was his favorite artist. And I -

RAJPAL: He's a tough critic.

GOULDING: I know. That's why I was very shocked. I mean, he's seen thousands and thousands of singers perform to him. And signed so many bands and artists. And me, being, like, my biggest critic, was just like, "Why - really?" So that's why I always think my life is crazy. Because stuff like that happens. And, like, I always think, you know, I'm not on that, like, level of superstardom or anything. But the stuff I get to do feels that way sometimes.

RAJPAL: Ellie Goulding, thank you so much for your time.

GOULDING: Nice to meet you.